‘Elden Ring’ video game review: Explore, collect, craft and die

A third-person, role-playing adventure with nearly limitless death and despair awaits gamers with the courage to restore the Elden Ring (Bandai Namco Entertainment and FromSoftware, rated: Mature, $59.99, reviewed on PlayStation 4).

How’s that for a fun weekend? As part of the evolution of the legendary and painfully difficult Dark Souls’ franchise, a vast world awaits players where they can embrace the mythos of the Lands Between through lore developed by “Game of Thrones” patriarch George RR Martin.

Specifically, the magic-infused Elden Ring was shattered into seven Great Runes by Queen Marika. Her demi-god offspring were each given a shard but fought each other and ravaged the lands to attempt to collect all of the Great Runes and reforge the Elden Ring .

Known as the Shattering war, the events completely fractured the Lands Between. It’s up to the player to kill all seven shard-bearing demi-gods, reassemble the Elden Ring and become Elden Lord.

As with all role-playing games, the epic journey begins as a player, summoned back after being branded a tarnished exile, selects from one of eight types of warriors and then customizes his or her final appearance.

Classes available range from a lowly wretch (let loose into the world only wearing a G-string); an astrologer (practitioner of magic); samurai (heavy-duty fighter); and vanguard (a flexible mid-range fighter).

Enough depth to the customization actually allows a player to closely recreate their face and body, if he takes the time, down to pores, color of bags under eyes, right and left iris size, color and detailed musculature.

Expect that process for the indecisive to last hours to finely hone a class of humans. Although I will remind all that most of those facial features are often covered in some type of protective head gear.

I picked the Vagabond class, a well-rounded and balanced fighter coming with a shield, long sword, Halberd and all that facial customization covered with a helmet and body in silver armor.

It’s worth noting that a Vanguard should unequip that Halberd early on for a more functional and speedier dodge roll to help when fighting.

Now, go forth while collecting, fighting and liberally crafting to enhance attributes and conquer a world overrun by intentionally powerful humanoids and creatures demanding a fight while also interacting with characters looking for or willing to help.

To give a taste of exploration, a player will first get dropped into the lands of Limgrave to find areas such as Stormveil Castle to defeat Godrick the Grafted (the first story demi-god); the forest Mistwood (watch out for the ferocious giant bears ); Agheel Lake (yes, that’s a big fire-breathing dragon); the Church of Elleh to purchase the crafting kit from the merchant Kale; and the Castle Morne to defeat the feral humanoid Leonine Misbegotten.

For those who work hard and play many hours, they will acquire plenty of helpful goodies through exploration and battles.

Specifically, acquire the Spectral Steed Whistle after a talk with Melina. A player’s avatar can now call on demand the horned horse Torrent to ride and double jump across the lands with varied abilities such as striking down enemies in a dizzying circular attack, take advantage of large geysers of wind to mega jump.

Or, defeat the Mad Pumpkin Head (a large humanoid with a massive pumpkin noggin) hiding in a dungeon and gain access to a room to meet the Sorceress Sellen, who will offer magical items and teach a warrior several Glintstone techniques.

For those reaching the commitment of obsession, right around 40 hours of gameplay for me, and exploring including those caves, mines, crypts, dungeons, expect to discover a wide range of equipment.

Some fun stuff includes the headdress Twinsage Glintstone Crown (a pair of metallic heads that just look cool and helps with further damage negation); the Raya Lucarian Robe (for more magic protection); Bloodhound Fang (kill the Bloodhound boss); a curved greatsword (causes major blood loss); the Meteorite Staff (found in the Swamps of Caelid) for powerful magic casting like throwing boulders; and a magic glowing blue Carian Greatsword (magic strikes with a big damn sword).

Familiar gameplay mechanics present areas called sites of grace to save the game and fast travel; a variety of upgradable flasks to fill and restore health and stamina; the use of Runes to buy stuff; and the ability to collect a vast number of items in a warrior’s inventory for crafting.

For example, collect root resin and smoldering butterfly to create fire grease and use it to set a sword ablaze for battle, a pretty neat and handy trick.

A welcomed and crucial addition to the playing experience is the summoning of dead warriors and creatures to assist in fighting. A player must find a variety of ashes to unlock and call upon them by ringing a bell collected from Renna the Witch.

They can summon such helpful warriors such as a pack of wolves, two skeletal militiamen, a spirit jellyfish, noble sorcerer (shoots glintstone shards) and five wandering nobles to attack enemies.

Game director and designer Miyazaki, the father of the Dark Souls’ franchise, has once again concocted some amazing monsters and creatures.

Players can face gargoyles, giant bats, skeletons, a grafted scion (a troll-like blob implanted with various body parts and extra appendages), human spiders, golden armored knights, a massive lobster, a land octopus, and large spinning jars (nicknamed pot boys) containing the entrails of fallen warriors. Each encounter guarantees death for those not powerful enough or combat savvy.

Finally, the potentially welcomed co-operative mode is a rather befuddling lesson in patience. A host player first visits an Effigies of the Martyr statue. With help from various powered severed fingers, he powers a summoning pool and creates a sign to call friends who have entered his realm using a Small Golden Effigy and a tool called a Furlcalling Finger Remedy to see his sign.

In almost all cases, no connection happened, and my friends could not be found. It appears to be a common issue right now.

What did work co-operatively was interacting with blood stains to watch how other players (as ghostly specters) died and reading notes left by others that might help with a warrior’s exploration.

Suffice it to report, after more than 50 hours of immersion, Elden Ring’s vastness and beauty only match its immense difficulty. It’s guaranteed to bring fits of anger and bouts of depression, but easily will be remembered as one of the best video games this year and potentially in the history of the medium.

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